Our Unfit Children

Following up on a fitness study that revealed child fitness declining by 8% over the previous ten years, researchers at the University of Essex in the UK have reported an even larger drop in fitness in schoolchildren.  However, this time they found that the children they tested were actually thinner than those measured in 2008.  According to lead researcher Dr. Gavin Sandercock, these finding reveal that there’s not as much of an obesity crisis when they were just measuring BMI.  However, the results of fitness tests reveal a more disturbing trend.

Matthew Ludwick inactivity

With the distractions afforded to modern children, it’s hardly surprising that they’re more inactive these days.

Out of the over 300 children between the ages of 10 and 11 who took part in the study, the researchers expected that children with a lower BMI would do better than the heavier children who they measured 6 years earlier.  Simply put, if you weigh less, then it should be easier to go out and run, so in turn you should do better on a test.  But despite a lower BMI, the children still couldn’t run as fast, revealing that they had even lower cardiorespiratory fitness.  Sandercock says that if they took the least fit child from a class of 30 that they tested in 1998, then they would be one of the five fittest children in a modern-day class.

It goes without saying that fitness is an important indicator of child and adult health, and any evidence of a decline in fitness is worrying.  Sandercock’s study reveals that a continued reliance on BMI as the stand-alone measurement of child health doesn’t tell us enough about health.  Back in 2009, the team at Essex reported that British children’s fitness was declining at twice the global rate, or .8% per year.  These latest findings hint that fitness has been decreasing even faster over the past six years, with an overall drop of .95% per year.  This time, boys’ fitness levels are falling much faster than girls’.

After the 2009 report on declining fitness, then-Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson called for fitness testing, although no action was taken.  Six years later, UK Active launched their Generation Inactive campaign.  With a troublesome decline in child fitness levels, the Essex scientists are joining the growing group of professionals in public health, education and the health and leisure industry who are calling for a rethink on how we monitor children’s health.  It’s clear that BMI doesn’t actually say much about children’s health or lifestyle, and lower BMI values could be due to a variety of issues.  Seeing fitness falling independent of BMI reveals that the cause of the decline is a lack of physical activity; being unfit and obese are just two symptoms of physical inactivity, and don’t always reveal the true health problems building up in today’s unfit children.